Like dishes packed with oniony-garlicky flavors? Grow shallots! This crop keeps for months, too, so you can continue enjoying its flavors in your winter soups and casseroles.
Illustration By Keith Ward
Famous for their delicate onion flavor with a hint of garlic, shallots earn their place in homestead gardens because they are such a great storage crop, with their ability to keep for six months or more. Growing shallots can begin with small bulbs or cloves, planted like garlic, or you can try growing shallots as annuals by starting seeds indoors in late winter. Productive and carefree after they’re established, shallots require moist, fertile soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0.
Types of Shallots
Red shallots produce clusters of plump, teardrop-shaped onions with red skins and faint red rings inside. Popular red shallot varieties such as ‘French Red’ and ‘Holland Red’ are sold as cloves, or you can start ‘Camelot,’ or ‘Conservor’ (both hybrid varieties) from seed.
Gold shallots are similar to red shallots, but with tan or copper-colored skins covering yellow-tinted bulbs. Seed-sown varieties such as ‘Ambition’ and ‘Saffron’ (both hybrids) are the longest-storing onion-type crop you can grow.
Gray shallots are upright plants that produce elongated shallot bulbs at the base of each stem. Gray shallots have a shorter dormancy period compared with other shallots, so they are the preferred type for planting in fall.
How to Plant Shallots
Fall planting works well when growing shallots from cloves that are showing signs of breaking dormancy, or you can wait until first thing in spring. Fall planting is recommended with gray shallots, which often break dormancy in fall.
Red and gold shallots, particularly those grown from seed, are in a state of deep dormancy in the fall, so it is usually best to wait until early spring to plant them. Seed-sown shallots grown as annuals should be started indoors under lights in late winter, so that sturdy seedlings are ready to set out four to six weeks before your last frost. Though they start out growing slowly, shallot seedlings are sturdy, fast-growing plants compared with bulb onion seedlings.
Harden off shallot seedlings for at least a week before transplanting them to prepared furrows in deeply dug garden beds. Shape 6-inch-deep furrows in a cultivated bed, and line the bottom with a standard application of a balanced organic fertilizer. Refill 3 inches of soil, and set out the seedlings 8 inches apart in all directions.
For recommended planting dates for your local climate — and to design your garden beds — try our Vegetable Garden Planner.
Keep shallots carefully weeded, and drench plants with a liquid organic fertilizer when they are 12 inches tall. Shallot plants naturally splay out as they approach maturity, as each plant will have divided into several separate plantlets. Shallots grown from cloves may produce a dozen or more small bulbs, while seed-sown varieties typically produce three perfect shallots per plant.
Harvesting and Storage
Begin harvesting shallots when the tops are actively dying back, which is usually late summer. Loosen the soil around the plants with a digging fork, pull up the plants and shake off the soil.
After harvesting shallots, cure the plants in a warm, well-ventilated place for a week, and then trim back the tops to 4 inches, and clip off the roots. Continue curing for two more weeks before trimming again and cleaning up for storage. Store cured shallots indoors, in a cool, dry place.
Many gardeners set aside small shallots for replanting, but larger bulbs will produce better crops. Seed-sown shallots are mostly hybrids that have been bred for earliness. Although hybrid seed-sown shallots often do produce flowers, their ability to grow true from seed is unknown. Under good conditions, a packet of purchased shallot seeds will remain viable for three years.
For growing advice for many more garden crops, check out our complete Crops at a Glance Guide.
Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on Google+.